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Saint Bartholomew

St Batholomew DurerSaint Bartholomew, known also as Nathanael, apostle and martyr, died in AD 71, is liturgically recalled today. However, his feast comes after the Sunday’s precedence. Nonetheless, we need to closely attend to the life and ministry of the 12, those who personally and dramatically lived with the Lord for three years. Why? Because we follow their experience and we continually ask ourselves the key question of the Christian life: “Who are you, Jesus?”

Saint Bartholomew, Bar-Tolmai or son of Tolmai, was one of the twelve Apostles called to the apostolate by our Blessed Lord Himself. His name is more adequately rendered by his given name, Nathanael. If one wonders why the synoptic Gospels always call him Bartholomew, it would be because the name Nathanael in Hebrew is equivalent to that of Matthew, since both in Hebrew signify gift of God; in this way the Evangelists avoided all confusion between the two Apostles. He was a native of Cana in Galilee, a doctor of the Jewish law, and a friend of Philip.

Philip, advised by Peter and Andrew, hastened to communicate to his friend the good news of his discovery of Christ: We have found Him whom Moses in the Law, and the Prophets, wrote! Come and see. Jesus saw Nathanael coming to Him, and said of him, Behold a true Israelite, in whom there is no guile. (Cf. John 1:45-49) His innocence and simplicity of heart deserved to be celebrated with this high praise in the divine mouth of Our Redeemer. And Nathanael, when Jesus told him He had already seen him in a certain place, confessed his faith at once: Rabbi, Thou art the Son of God, Thou art the King of Israel!

Being eminently qualified by divine grace to discharge the functions of an Apostle, he carried the Gospel through the most barbarous countries of the East, penetrating into the remoter Indies, baptizing neophytes and casting out demons. A copy of the Gospel of Saint Matthew was found in India by Saint Pantænus in the third century, taken there, according to local tradition, by Saint Bartholomew. Saint John Chrysostom said the Apostle also preached in Asia Minor and, with Saint Philip, suffered there, though not mortally, for the faith. Saint Bartholomew’s last mission was in Greater Armenia, where, preaching in a place obstinately addicted to the worship of idols, he was crowned with a glorious martyrdom. The modern Greek historians say that he was condemned by the governor of Albanopolis to be crucified. Others affirm that he was flayed alive, which treatment might well have accompanied his crucifixion, this double punishment being in use not only in Egypt, but also among the Persians.

Reflection: The characteristic virtue of the Holy Apostles was zeal for the divine glory. A soldier is always ready to defend the honor of his prince, and a son that of his father; can a Christian say he loves God if he is indifferent to His honor?

Dictionnaire de la Bible, Ed. F. Vigouroux (Letouzey et Ané: Paris, 1912), Vol. 5, Philippe, Apôtre; Little Pictorial Lives of the Saints, a compilation based on Butler’s Lives of the Saints and other sources by John Gilmary Shea (Benziger Brothers: New York, 1894).

Saint Bartholomew

St Bartholomew MdiGiovanni.jpgNathanael was one of Christ’s first converts, yet his name does not occur again till the last chapter of St. John’s Gospel, where he is mentioned in company with certain of the Apostles, to whom Christ appeared after His resurrection. Now, why should the call of Nathanael have been recorded in the opening of the Gospel, among the acts of Christ in the beginning of His Ministry, unless he was an Apostle? Philip, Peter, and Andrew, who are mentioned at the same time, were all Apostles; and Nathanael’s name is introduced without preface, as if familiar to a Christian reader. At the end of the Gospel it appears again, and there too among Apostles. Besides, the Apostles were the special witnesses of Christ, when He was risen.  He manifested Himself, “not to all the people,” says Peter, “but unto witnesses chosen before of God, even to us, who did eat and drink with Him after He rose from the dead.” [Acts x. 41.] Now, the occasion on which Nathanael is mentioned, was one of these manifestations. “This is now the third time,” says the Evangelist, “that Jesus was manifested to His disciples, after that He was risen from the dead.” It was in the presence of Nathanael, that He gave St. Peter his commission, and foretold his martyrdom, and the prolonged life of St. John. All this leads us to conjecture that Nathanael is one of the Apostles under another name. Now, he is not Andrew, Peter, or Philip, for they are mentioned in connexion with him in the first chapter of the Gospel; nor Thomas, James, or John, in whose company he is found in the last chapter; nor Jude (as it would seem), because the name of Jude occurs in St. John’s fourteenth chapter. Four Apostles remain, who are not named in his Gospel,–St. James the Less, St. Matthew, St. Simon, and St. Bartholomew; of whom St. Matthew’s second name is known to have been Levi, while St. James, being related, was not at any time a stranger to our Lord, which Nathanael evidently was. If then Nathanael were an Apostle, he was either Simon or Bartholomew. Now it is observable, that, according to St. John, Philip brought Nathanael to Christ; therefore Nathanael and Philip were friends: while in the other Gospels, in the list of Apostles, Philip is associated with Bartholomew; “Simon and Andrew, James and John, Philip and Bartholomew.” [Matt. x. 3.] This is some evidence that  Bartholomew and not Simon is the Nathanael of St. John. On the other hand, Matthias has been suggested instead of either, his name meaning nearly the same as Nathanael in the original language. However, since writers of some date decide in favour of Bartholomew, I shall do the like in what follows.

What then do we learn from his recorded character and history? It affords us an instructive lesson. When Philip told him that he had found the long-expected Messiah of whom Moses wrote, Nathanael (that is, Bartholomew) at first doubted. He was well read in the Scriptures, and knew the Christ was to be born in Bethlehem; whereas Jesus dwelt at Nazareth, which Nathanael supposed in consequence to be the place of His birth,–and he knew of no particular promises attached to that city, which was a place of evil report, and he thought no good could come out of it.

Philip told him to come and see; and he went to see, as a humble single-minded man sincerely desirous to get at the truth. In consequence, he was vouchsafed an interview with our Saviour, and was converted.

Blessed John Henry Newman
Plain and Parochial Sermons

Saint Bartholomew

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Almighty and everlasting God, Who has given us this day a reverent and holy joy in the feast of Thy blessed Apostle Bartholomew, we beseech Thee, grant unto Thy Church ever to love that which he believed and to preach that which he taught.

The historical facts regarding the Apostle Bartholomew are murky: his real name is unknown, he’s not mentioned in the Fourth Gospel and only curiously listed in the Synoptics but is closely connected with Nathaniel and Philip, where he preached the Gospel after the Pentecost is speculated, the manner of his death is obscure and even his relics are “thought by some” to be in Rome in a church named for him. But some of the relics are in Frankfurt and others in Canterbury.

Regardless of all this, the Church honors Bartholomew as an apostle of Jesus Christ who gave his life for the Good News.We honored him in a liturgical memorial for ages and we continue to do so today asking for his intercession before the Throne of Grace.

Today let us offer a prayer for the Church in Armenia and for Francis Cardinal George, archbishop of Chicago whose titular church in Rome is Saint Bartholomew on the Island and for tanners.

About the author

Paul A. Zalonski is from New Haven, CT. He is a member of the Fraternity of Communion and Liberation, a Catholic ecclesial movement, and an Oblate of Saint Benedict. Contact Paul at paulzalonski[at]yahoo.com.
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